February 24, 2017 / 12:50 PM / 7 months ago

Millions at risk from African famine worsened by Boko Haram: U.N.

Children attend a class at a primary school in Muna Garage IDP camp, Maiduguri, Nigeria November 7, 2016. UNICEF/Naftalin/Handout via REUTERS

OSLO (Reuters) - Aid agencies must get food to close to 3 million people by July to avert a famine in Africa’s Lake Chad region caused by drought, chronic poverty and Islamist insurgents Boko Haram, the United Nations said on Friday as it launched a funding appeal.

International donors at a conference in Oslo pledged $672 million for the next three years in new money, $457 million of which was for 2017, Norway’s foreign minister said.

The United Nations, which says it needs $1.5 billion in humanitarian aid for the region this year, had previously raised $19 million toward this target.

The presence of Boko Haram militants has prevented farmers from planting crops or accessing Lake Chad to provide water for their animals. Fishermen have also been prevented from accessing the lake which is shared between Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria and Chad, aid experts say.

Boko Haram militants have killed around 15,000 people and forced more than 2 million from their homes during a seven-year insurgency.

Despite having been pushed out of the vast swathes of territory they controlled in 2014, their attacks and the counter operations by Nigerian authorities still disrupt vital economic activity, officials say.

(L-R) UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O'Brien, Germany's Minister of Foreign Affairs Sigmar Gabriel, Norway's Minister of Foreign Affairs Borge Brende, and Nigeria's Minister of Foreign Affairs Geoffrey Onyeama attend a press conference at the Oslo Humanitarian Conference on Nigeria and the Lake Chad Region in Oslo, Norway February 24, 2017. NTB Scanpix/Haakon Mosvold Larsen/via REUTERS

The most urgent need is to reach 2.8 million people with rice or sorghum, or cash to buy supplies, by July, the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) said.

“We are in the lean season and people’s supplies are depleted. We need to avoid a famine,” Abdou Dieng, the WFP’s country director for West and Central Africa, told Reuters.

The participants to the Oslo Humanitarian Conference on Nigeria and the Lake Chad Region pose for a family photo in Oslo, Norway February 24, 2017. NTB Scanpix/Haakon Mosvold Larsen/via REUTERS

Overall 10.7 million people -- roughly 2 out of 3 inhabitants -- need humanitarian help such as food, water, education or protection, the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.

The United States, a major aid donor to the region in previous years, did not pledge any money on Friday.

Stephen O‘Brien, the U.N. emergency relief coordinator, said this was because the U.S. administration was still in transition following November’s election.

Half a million children aged under five are suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

“One in five could die and the others could suffer severe long-term consequences, such as stunting,” Manuel Fontaine, the U.N. children’s fund UNICEF’s head of emergency programs, told Reuters.

Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Toby Davis

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